Fedora 18: now keyboard-friendly to everybody

It is fashionable these days, especially for the Slashdot crowd, bloggers, kernel hackers and other people depending on “feature X that has not fully polished”, to throw mud at the efforts that have been made towards redesigning the Fedora Linux installer.

When people trash the work you’ve been doing fully in the open for over a year and almost nobody stands up to defend you, you have to have a really tough skin. I can afford to read those articles with no ill effects because I have an emotional distance from the matter (not being closely related to the project, except in spirit), but otherwise, you have to swallow tears and quietly breathe fire in lieu of ragequitting, and continue improving your software for the next release. With the side-effects on user expectations from such a long development cycle, you start brainstorming ways to adapt the cycle to prevent such events from occuring again.

And yet, I’m sure there are many who are quietly happy or optimistic about the progress being made. I, for one, would like to focus on one particular aspect where my quality of life improved significantly with the new installer. Thanks to one of my favorite heroines and the hard work of the Anaconda team, the Fedora installer now allows you to set up your system with any keyboard layout supported by X.org. As usual, all it took was a crazy belgian pirate to stir things up.

As I’ve been waiting for a long time for this, I appreciate the work that has been done towards this goal. I’d like to thank Máirín for the research/followup work she did on the matter to ensure we could all switch to French Canadian Dvorak for F18. Now that is what I call customer service :)

By the way, if you care about usability/UX and haven’t added Máirín’s blog to your feed reader already, do it. Do it now. The posts in the Anaconda category are especially interesting for those who are willing to understand the long and elaborate design process that led to the new Fedora installer.

19 thoughts on “Fedora 18: now keyboard-friendly to everybody

  1. New installer is promising, but it’s young. On its current state, its difficult to determine what partitions will become.

    This does not mean everything is to throw away. I guess everything is a big step forward, apart from this disks issue, which probably made some people think it was totally broken.

    To defend them (I had to install twice…), selecting volume where to install is a critical part of an installer. To defend the re-vamp, maybe some small fixes could quickly lead to a clear UI (an UI clearly communicating to the user what he is planning to do).

  2. Beyond the time factors, I think the Anaconda team was also blocked on some technical limitations of what UI widgets can do. I’m looking forward to fixes for rough edges in future versions, and I’m sure that constructive feedback/ideas/patches will help in that regard.

    • Yup, constructive feedback always harder! Unfortunately textual comments won’t help much here, only mockups would be really constructive…

      I guess the main rant is lack of clear view on “AS IS / TO BE”, mainly when several disks involved.
      * Will the disk will be just mounted but without change?
      * Mounted and formated?
      * Not even mounted?

      Maybe also is the “fedora reclaims space” approach disturbing. I know fedora needs space to install to.
      * If I’m a power user, I just want to be asked about what to overwrite or not, what to use as /home and swap and so on
      * If I’m new to Linux, I just want to be asked if I want to keep windows alive or replace it [err, I didn't test with windows installed however]

  3. I think a lot of the problem with the new installer’s UI is that they’ve taken the linear process that is OS installation and tried to present it in a non-linear way.

    There is nothing wrong with a wizard with Next > buttons, and not much to be gained by a lot of the UI changes in Anaconda as far as I can tell.

    As to the partitioning screen, I found it awfully confusing and I’m comfortable in fdisk. I kept hoping for a summary screen that would say “Okay! Here’s what we’re about to do to your system! Is that right?” The only reason I managed to mount my pre-existing homedir was because I clicked the help button and read several paragraphs of text.

    With that said, the keyboard stuff is awesome! :)

    • There is nothing wrong with a wizard with Next > buttons, and not much to be gained by a lot of the UI changes in Anaconda as far as I can tell.

      Actually, there was a lot wrong with it. Once you hit the ‘point of no return’ where changes to disk were written out somewhere in the middle of the 20 odd or so screens, you could not go back to change anything previous to that point, which we got complaints about a lot. We also had sections of that old wizard design that involved 3-4 modal dialogs deep, and found that rearranging the screens into a hub-and-spoke model allowed us to separate the data out such that it was possible to only ever require one level deep of modal dialog. (The problem with wizards is that once you get into the 20-30 screen deep range, you’re pressured to try to make installation shorter, so you try to cram more things into a single screen, meaning you’ll need more modals… )

      Another issue with the old wizard design is that it took actions immediately. This new design allows you to queue up everything, review it in summary format on the main menu screen, and press continue when you’re done knowing what will happen.

      Where parts got dicey / confusing (nobody’s saying it’s perfect) is where we were past string freeze and had discovered usability issues but couldn’t actually add the text needed to at least help lighten the confusion. We actually did do some string changes past string freeze – through a miscommnuncation there were a lot of ALL CAPS items on screen, so we manually went and corrected 30 strings in each of every one of 70-odd language’s pot files to change the characters from uppercase to lowercase. But our hands were tied on adding new text because we couldn’t do all that translation work for the translators.

  4. New installer is an excellent step in the right direction. People are always going to whine about change. There are plenty of really useful features of the new partitioner (i.e it tells me which partitions were my F17 install). It will grow additional features. Keep up the good work!

  5. I guess the main rant is lack of clear view on “AS IS / TO BE”, mainly when several disks involved.
    * Will the disk will be just mounted but without change?
    * Mounted and formated?
    * Not even mounted?

    Chris actually committed some changes we came up with to the main disk selection screen and the main menu screen today and yesterday to hopefully alleviate this a little bit.

    The main screen will have the following additional message displayed near the ‘begin installation button’: (link)

    The main disk selection screen has a new message on the very top as well as a message on the local disk selection widget to assure users unselected disks won’t be touched and selected disks will be left untouched until the installation has begun:

    http://linuxgrrl.com/fedora-ux/Projects/Anaconda/Sketches/DiskSelectionTerror/disk-selection-terror_ideas.png

    The custom partitioning screens will be undergoing more substantial modifications to improve their usability – we’re going to be running a rather large (8 participants) usability study at DevConf in Brno, CZ next month and it will involve, among other things, participants going through the custom partitioning UI to create specific RAID and LVM disk layouts, and we’re going to use the test results to help determine what kinds of changes we need to make on custom partitioning to improve it. It definitely has a lot more work to go and I will be the first to say the design is far from perfect and needs help, but I’m not entirely convinced the model we chose to pursue with it is the complete and utter failure the internet seems to think it is. :)

    Maybe also is the “fedora reclaims space” approach disturbing. I know fedora needs space to install to.
    * If I’m a power user, I just want to be asked about what to overwrite or not, what to use as /home and swap and so on
    * If I’m new to Linux, I just want to be asked if I want to keep windows alive or replace it [err, I didn't test with windows installed however]

    I wonder, if we auto-detect that there’s (a) pre-existing linux install(s), should we offer on the reclaim screen to simply replace the linux install of your selecting?

    • I’m not entirely convinced the model we chose to pursue with it is the complete and utter failure the internet seems to think it is. :)

      Sure, to me it looks like the beginning of something good. I did hear about the usability study – most probably F19 will be the best installer ever.

      I share the opinion that slight amendments are the right way for this. You point to adding helpful messages and keeping the generic approach. And yes, when people say “blow away everything”, they’re actually frightened with under information.

      Definitely, “disk selection terror ideas” is something helpful.

      I wonder, if we auto-detect that there’s (a) pre-existing linux install(s), should we offer on the reclaim screen to simply replace the linux install of your selecting?

      I would have *loved* default choices with pre-made partitioning like “X. delete everything” “Y. keep only old home”. However adding new stuff would lead to other questions :/

    • I really liked the new installer. The top level menu is a nice concept.
      But, I must say that the disk setup was a bit confusing.
      I was going to simply replace my old Fedora 17 install while keeping the /home-partition intact.
      It took me a few tries to understand how to do this, and when I pressed the finalize-button (or whatever it says) I still was not 100% sure that I had done it right. Which made me a bit nervous :)

      But I am quite confident that this will be fixed later, and everything will be fine.

      If I have feedback or opinions, what is the best place to go and voice them?

  6. While I think GNOME, anaconda, etc, are moving in the right direction, my issue is that a lot of technologies are “released” before they are actually ready. Yes it’s good to release early and often, but sometimes this is too early. I don’t think regressions are ever acceptable, for example.

    In other news, I think the #anaconda channel on freenode is known to actually be quite unfriendly, so even if development is “open” it’s still quite a hostile environment for anyone interested in joining. Maybe this is no longer true though.

    Thanks for working on GNOME!

    • In other news, I think the #anaconda channel on freenode is known to actually be quite unfriendly, so even if development is “open” it’s still quite a hostile environment for anyone interested in joining. Maybe this is no longer true though.

      I’ve never heard of this. I’ve been an active participant for over two years now and I’ve never seen hostility or issues come up in there.

      • I am glad you’ve had good success! Maybe it is because you’re an “insider”, but if you’re not, then can be a bit rough. Nobody is perfect, and they’re definitely busy and probably get a lot of annoying people that go in there. I think hostile was maybe the wrong word, so I withdraw that, sorry. Unfriendly/unhelpful is more reasonable.

        • I think it depends when you pop in. If you’re popping in during U.S. eastern/central biz hours it’s fine. I don’t think you have to be an ‘insider’ to be treated well there. I’ve monitored the channel 40+ hours a week for a long time now and haven’t seen anything egregiously bad. It may be you go in there and ask a question and nobody knows the answer or it’s not the right place to ask and you don’t get an answer, but I’ve never seen anything get real personal in there.

          • Fair enough! Thanks for your reply, and good luck with anaconda development!

            PS: If you have any influence, it would be great if anaconda supported kickstarting software RAID1 efi boot partitions for HA servers, similarly to how it does for software RAID1 normal boot partitions.

  7. The Anaconda development was a real mess in a sense of translations this cycle. And I feel that it will be similar during F19 cycle due to the second wave of redesign.

    Including such a crude product in the release with untested translations should really be avoided.

    P.S. The current keyboard layout chooser is almost useless for non-Latin layouts, so the scope of its usage is somewhat limited. ;)

    • P.S. The current keyboard layout chooser is almost useless for non-Latin layouts, so the scope of its usage is somewhat limited. ;)

      What kind of troubles did you have? This is the first I’ve heard of such issues…

    • It ought to work fine for Cyrillic so long as you make sure to set up two layouts and a switcher combo. It can’t set up CJK ootb very well yet, but then, neither could the old one.

  8. I agree that Anaconda is going in the right direction. I liked the ease of removing my Fedora 16 partitions (which were recognized) to make free space for Fedora 18. Even so, with serious bugs like bug #893218 I think would have been a better idea to postpone the implementation of the redesigned Anaconda.

Comments are closed.